A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Time to Get Myself Into the Big Mountains!

The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (wiki) is quickly approaching, four gruelling races within a 10 week time period. I'm in great shape right now, but would love to get in even better shape! I have now less than 13 weeks to prepare for the 4 races that make up the Slam.

Western States 100 - Point-to-point race, climb to (maybe) snow pack on top of mountains in beginning, descent into torturous canyons with heat up to and above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Huge hills throughout the course.


Vermont 100 - Beautiful course, More than 15,000 feet of elevation gain, many hills that can come at the athletes, especially the last 30 miles of the race.


Leadville 100 - Race in High Rockies, extreme lack of oxygen, climb Hope Pass to over 12,500 feet. Twice! Powerline hill at mile 80-85. Hell awaits here before getting to the finish line.


Wasatch 100 - the last race in the Grand Slam - by far the hilliest of all the races with about 25,000 feet of elevation gain. Another point-to-point race. No flat section on the course at all, would be on extremely tired legs from doing the other 3 races. Also very beautiful to do. Reaching the finish line here and realizing success in the Grand Slam would be even more beautiful!


What do these races have in common? You got it...HILLS!!! And therein lies the focus for the rest of my training...developing the hill muscles necessary to not only to survive, but thrive in the mountains.

This Friday and Saturday coming up, I will be in the White Mountains of New Hampshire tackling the mountains there. I am figuring about 15 miles on the Appalachian Trail on Friday, then 20 miles on the neighboring trails on Saturday. If the weather is OK, I will try to climb to the top of Mt. Washington on both days.


The next week I will be in Harriman State Park closer to home and run some great hills there.


The other big change now is my cycling, another critical component that developed my hill legs for Vermont last year. Now that it's spring, I can finally be able to stay outside all the time instead of on the trainer. And I will be very aggressive on the bike for the last 13 weeks.

I feel that I am exactly where I want to be at this point of time for the Grand Slam. If I can put an exclamation point on this training, it's going to be one heck of an eventful summer this year!!!


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Fun! The Chimney Rock 5 Mile Trail Run

Yeah, I know. I didn't want to race in any other races except for the Grand Slam because of budget constraints.

But this was different. And plus, I really wanted to see how my fitness went along in competition out there, especially when I'm the lightest I've been in years and very well trained.

Today, I really had a choice between 2 trail races. The first one, Wolfes Run, was moved to Bloomingdale Park because Wolfes Pond Park has never fully recovered from Hurricane Sandy last year. I don't know the trails there, but I would suspect that they were pretty flat in that park. I needed hills.

In comparison, the Chimney Rock 5 Mile Trail Run near Bridgewater, NJ touts a total climb of over 2000 feet in elevation (I not sure about that, but it does have some major climbs in it) and is very, VERY technical. Lots of roots, rocks, mud, you name it, the trail has it.


This is actually one of the "easier" parts of the trail at Chimney Rock.


I also did Chimney Rock two years ago when I was heavier and in not so stellar shape. I wound up walking all the huge hills on the course. Anyway, I knew I was going to beat my time of 57:53 from 2011. The question was, by how much.

I arrived there in plenty of time, saw some of the people I know from the Raritan Valley Road Runners and chatted with them at length. Most know that I was attempting the Grand Slam this year and wished me luck. I found out that a couple of people from that club are going to the Vermont 100. Both of them are real good runners; I would suspect that they might be contending to win the race outright. I definitely wish them the best of luck and will see them up there in July.

The day was actually quite nice. Mid 40's, not too windy, and lots of sun, an ideal day to be on the course. I wore a thin long sleeve running shirt and shorts with gloves. No hat was needed. For the hour before the race, I was feeling quite good and ready to go.

The course crosses a stream and a road, then does 2 full loops in the main section of the park. Each loop starts off with a really nasty technical section near a river, then a lung busting major hill climb up to Hawk Watch. It then meanders around, up and down until the end of the loop where we have a very technical, no holds barred downhill back to the start of the second loop. The second loop is almost the same...Cough up the second lung up the big hill, then a small detour on a trail that we didn't do on the first loop, then down that big technical scary hill back. Cross the road, then the stream, then uphill to the finish.

At 9AM, we started off. The stallions in the group quickly got to the front and took off. I held my own with a pretty good group as we crossed the small stream and road, and got to the technical section. Here I almost missed a footing and almost ended up in the river. It was a quick reaction with my other foot that halted the dive. I noted to myself that I was to be very careful the second time I entered that section.

We finally got some good running trails as we started the ascent up to Hawk Watch. I remember quite clearly that I had to stop two years ago and walk up this bad boy. But this year I changed my gait and methodically got up the hill with the rest of the crowd. I was still a tough haul, but I was more than ready to handle it. We levelled off and I quickly recovered, pushing a very good pace. I passed a couple of people at the top, then passed a couple of people at the aid station before the descent down.

The downhill section turned out to be the most impressive. With the balancing exercises that I've been doing, I actually did great in this section. My footing was quick on the rocks, I didn't lose much speed, and I was loving it! I managed to pass another guy down this stretch before starting the 2nd loop.

At the start of the 2nd loop, now that I wasn't crowded in with other runners, I had a better time with the real nasty technical section by the river. No problems this time as I climbed the big hill again up to Hawk Watch. I was a bit tired, but I kept running up the hill again. Halfway up the hill, I know I didn't have to walk because again, I was methodical in changing my gait to accommodate the slope. I got to the trail detour and caught up with a couple of guys ahead of me and decided to hang with them a bit.

We we all flying at the top of the ridge there, then started our final technical descent toward the finish. I passed one of the guys, but the other guy was a better downhiller than me. I tried to stay with him as much as possible, but he really picked up the pace. The increased pace did make me pass another runner. It was quite the fastest speed I've done over a really rocky terrain and my footing was perfect. I got down to the bottom of the hill, then crossed the road and stream back toward the finish. The last 100 yards or so was a tough uphill. It was not easy to open up here, but the sight of the finish line drove me forward. I finished at a time of 46:52 on my clock, which is a 9:22 min/mile pace on this rugged course. Wow.

A quick mental calculation and I realized that I PR'ed on this course by over 11 minutes. That is substantial on a 5 mile course. :-)

Oh, and one last thing, what is a tough trail run without some blood-letting? On the downhill in the last mile of the course, my left leg brushed up hard against a tree trunk on the side of the trail. It's a nice sized scratch from the knee on down to the calf. Although a little painful,  it's only a flesh wound and I'm perfectly fine.

I wound up getting 2nd in the 40-49 age group, which is a nice ending to an achievement today. The post race celebration had pizza and beer, which I had to decline, of course. Primal diet and all that. I'm glad to get reacquainted with the people from NJ again. They are great runners and therefore real tough competition. To get an age group award here, in this tough race, with tough runners, is something to be proud of.


Friday, March 29, 2013

The 3 Mortal Enemies of the Body you should Avoid at All Costs

I'm hoping this blog will be short and sweet.

This is related to what I posted yesterday about the wonders of the Primal Diet and what it did for me.

I know that for some of you, such a radical shift in your dietary intake might make it impossible to reach "100% primal" at this time. And there might be a lot of complexities about this diet that you either don't understand or don't have the time to understand.

So I'll cut to the chase and keep this very simple.

If you want your diet to be at least half-way decent, there are 3 things in food that you MUST avoid at all costs. If you can cut these 3 out of your diet, you will have a much healthier diet, whether it's primal or not.

1) High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) - This nasty stuff seems to placed in most processed foods these days. Here's a good link at what this crap does to your body. The fact is that your body simply cannot digest this form of sugar very well and leads to all sorts of problems, including obesity and diabetes. One of the worst at carrying HFCS is soda. If you are a notorious soda drinker, I can safely bet you will lose at least 10 pounds if you cut the soda completely out of your diet.



2) Artificial Sweeteners - That would be Aspartame and Splenda - Aspartame metabolises into formaldehyde and formic acid, both are ingredients in embalming fluid, and they are very slow to leave the body. The side effects are numerous. Splenda is another poison to avoid like the plague. Sucralose is a chlorocarbon and is more like DDT than sugar. Chlorocarbons in general are very harmful to the body. Plus, both artificial sweeteners have a tendency to make you even MORE hungry, and will make most people consume MORE calories than they would normally do without these sweeteners.



3) Wheat - Is the worst grain to ingest of them all. Here is a history of wheat, when the industry changed wheat to something a lot worse than it originally was. Aside from toxins like gluten and lectin, there are other toxins that just about destroy the delicate balance on your GI tract.


Primal or not, if you can cut out these 3 enemies from your diet, you would have taken a HUGE step toward your fitness and your diet in general. You will feel much better and maybe even reverse the aging effect, resulting in a much fitter you!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Primal Diet...An Ongoing Success!!!

A lot of people who know me know that I keep a pretty meticulous record of the things I do, along with the things my athletes do. I find it's a good way to accurately go back and see the good and bad in my life.

In this case, it's really good. The Grand Slam of Ultrarunning that I'm doing this year has given me good reason to go into my past, to see the mistakes that I did and know that those mistakes can never be made when I finally attempt the Slam this year, because one big mistake on my part will very well mean failure for something as gruelling as the Slam.

Anyway, let me talk about diet. As an Italian living an American lifestyle, I  was very bad on my diet, even though I was doing well in triathlons. Even when I was hitting the podium in the 90's in triathlon I was a notorious soda-drinker, pasta and bread eater (thanks to my Italian lifestyle). My youthful metabolism and the punishing training I did tended to keep the weight off.

Time, of course, tends to expose the mistakes masked by youth. I steadily gained weight at the turn of this century, my training went downhill, and there was a time when I wasn't participating in races at all. I called it "semi-retirement", but in a way I was entirely too embarrassed to race, especially when I knew I qualified for the Clydesdale division.

Yes, the Clydesdale Division. I checked my logbook and in January of 2011, I weighed in at 215 pounds. That was the highest official weight I've recorded for myself and I was quite embarrassed wearing size 38 jeans. I did finish the Vermont 100 the year before but had no energy up the hills. Although I was proud to finish that race, I finished in a little over 28 hours.

 Oh, yeah, I was a porker back then. Soda and grains can definitely do some bad things to a body, just like it did mine.


January was right before the transformation started to happen. Due to my crazy soda consumption I had to get 2 root canals as my teeth were starting to rot. I decided right there and then to quit soda cold turkey, except for long distance races. I started to drop in weight a bit to about 204 pounds.

Again, I'm glad I keep a good history of my training, because 204 pounds was my official weight for the Leadville 100 in 2011. As I found out rather cruelly, the race took no prisoners. The race is perhaps one of the toughest on the planet due to its altitude and lack of oxygen. I died at the Hopeless Aid Station at mile 46 after struggling up the front side of Hope Pass.

Rather than blame it on altitude, which I knew I couldn't control, I blamed it on my weight, which I can definitely control. I was still very heavy and started to cut out any foods containing High Fructose Corn Syrup and start the long road back to success in these races.

That diet, along with the switch back to triathlon training, got me ready for the Vermont 100 last year (2012). I dropped a substantial amount of weight and officially weighed in at 189 pounds. What a difference it made from doing Vermont two years before! I was bouncing up the hills and, with the help of a great crew, finished at an impressive time of 21 hours and 24 minutes, about a 6.5 hour PR!

So where am I now?

At the end of last year I was starting to toy with the primal diet because, upon doing extensive research, it actually sounded like the best diet to take. Instead of blaming the obesity epidemic on fat intake, they actually blamed it on carbohydrate intake and the toxins found in grains, especially wheat.

 The primal food pyramid...there are no grains in this pyramid!


But I was an Italian. Although I cut down significantly on carbs, I still was clinging onto bread and pasta.

Then, I won the Western States lottery...

...and decided to attempt the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning...

...and have someone chronicle the Grand Slammers this year and turn our stories into a coffee table book (you can donate if you like, just click here).

That fear just drove me straight and went 100% primal. No breads, no pasta, no grains. Just raw food, nuts, some chocolate, fruits, and vegetables.

It is now about 13 weeks until the first race of the Grand Slam, the Western States 100, and I am glad to say that I am currently 179 pounds, I actually have my six-pack abs back, and I feel very, very agile running the trails.


I'm too sexy for my shirt...took this with an old camera, but the six pack is in there somewhere. Trust me on this. :-)

That's sort of better. There's a little definition on the abs this time. :-)

And the side view is great. No spare tire whatsoever. Primal diet rules!!!


I would have never thought that I would get my fitness back at almost 44 years old but here I am, ready to rock and roll!

What is also interesting is that my insides, my gastrointestinal tract, has never felt more sound in my entire life! No bloating, no bleeding, no stress, everything is running on all cylinders.

I still haven't run the Grand Slam yet, so it's too early to tell how it will impact my ultras, but I'm telling you right now that I feel that my age has reversed with this diet. I can definitely give those young'uns a race for their money!

Anyway, if you're interested in what I've done with my diet, you can definitely talk to me about it, either personally or over emails. I really think it's changed my life for the better and I know it can change yours also.

Some references you might want to take a look at with Primal or Paleo Diet:

Mark's Daily Apple - http://www.marksdailyapple.com/

Living Paleo - http://www.livingpaleo.com/

The Paleo Diet - http://thepaleodiet.com/

Monday, March 25, 2013

Why I'm Quitting Facebook

Hi people.

I just want to inform all of you on Facebook that this will be my last posting on the webpage. The reasons are many, so that is why I'm going to explain them in this blog here.


The main reason why I'm quitting facebook is to get my "personal space" back to my digital identity. This means I want to keep my digital life private. With the constant chatter going on in Facebook and its close interconnectedness among Facebook friends, sometimes, if I do something, or if I DON'T do something, people might regard it as something sinister. As proof of this intrusiveness into my digital life, my inactivity this week has prompted several people to think that I've blocked them from my status updates. Assumptions of other people abound on Facebook, and it is often the wrong assumption.

People just know too much of each other's business on Facebook and in other social media. A lot of people find this acceptable, but I am finding it quite burdensome.

There have been other things from friends on Facebook that have gotten quite "racy" and downright weird. This is something that normally should be kept between couples behind closed doors, yet I see it on Facebook. Things like this I'm really not interested in, and again I am forced to make assumptions with my Facebook friends. Hopefully they are the wrong assumptions.

Also, posting Facebook status frequently makes people look to narcissistic. Sorry guys, but I've found out recently that your best accolades on your achievements are communicated not by yourself but through others who are genuinely impressed at what you do. In other words, the one who achieved a great accomplishment really doesn't need to spread the news him or herself.

I am always reminded of my father's business. My father is self employed and has installed carpets for around 50 years now. Do you know how much money he spent on advertising during those 50 years? Absolutely nothing! His work is so impressive that his customers will spread the word to their friends about how great a job he does. Often, those friends wind up calling up for his services. And don't forget that most of the customers call up again and again for more business!

The last reason, and quite possibly the most important reason of them all is that personal friendships trump online friendships in every case! That is going to force me to make an effort to maintain those personal friendships, by physically meeting with them, or actually calling them up on the phone. This effort caused the bond between personal friends to be much stronger than just an online relationship. In the past 2 weeks, I've been to NJ and the Manhattan to see some friends I haven't seen in a long time. And in both times, I came away with a very satisfying feeling that I've strengthened those friendships!

And I will continue to make that effort to go to NJ, to go to Manhattan, to go to a personal friend's house, to actually SEE family again to strengthen those bonds between friends and family.

As for my facebook account, the account will still be active, but I will not post any of my own from now on. I will also not "like" anyone else's status, since I will not look at them at all. I will log on from time to time, just to look to see if anyone has sent me a private message that needs answered

To those friends who feel the same way and want to stay connected, you can easily find me at NY as well as NJ races and the clubs in both states that I am a member of. You can also follow this blog as I talk about training for endurance races by subscribing to it. I think RSS does fine with that.

You can also send me an email to ironpete@ironpete.com with your info whether it be a phone number or your email. Sometimes the "old school" way of picking up the phone and talking is the best way to keep in touch.

Anyway, adios to everyone and hope to see you all the old fashioned way!




Sunday, March 10, 2013

The local race scene: Can you really "Go Back Home" again?

I was going to make this brief, but I guess I had more to say about this subject than planned.

This morning I went to NJ to visit some friends I haven't seen in about a year associated with the Raritan Valley Road Runners Club. They were organizing a pretty large race in Piscataway called the Miles 4 Music 20k, a very well organized race that is designed to fund music in schools. The race did very well, attracting over 1000 people over all of their races (20k, 5k, walk).

Anne McCarthy, the organizer for a very well run Miles 4 Music 20k race last year. She was at it again this morning, successfully leading an even bigger and better race this year.


I did see a lot of familiar faces, and it was overall a great experience to be talking to those again after a long time. But what stood out was the tremendous change that has come over the club since I've moved over to Staten Island.

First, there were a lot of new faces in the club, a sign that the club was thriving. A new generation has definitely taken over the club, and wow, they are fast! I was introduced to some of the "young'uns" and to see their eyes light up certainly reminded of those days when I was an excited "young'un" tackling 20 or so races per year.

On a sadder note, some of my generation has stopped running altogether. Most of them were injured or had other things in their life that they took as a priority. One of my friends I talked to said it succinctly, "Age sucks." And in a way, he was right. But I still hold firm that if one takes care of his body that he should be able to keep running until he's ready for the grave. One living proof of that was on the race course this morning. Bill Welsh, in his 80s, still keeps himself running at this time. And he still tackles the longer races like the 20k this morning. The last time I remember seeing him was at the tough Indian Trails 15k last year. So it's a sign of encouragement that we in our 40s still have plenty of years left of running. It's just a matter of making sure we give the body time to heal after each difficult workout or race.

But one thing that really struck out at me was the race itself. After all the serious ultras that I'm doing, would I ever be able to normally do these types of local races again?

I don't know.

I've travelled to a lot of races in many far off places. And knowing that there are so many great races out there in the world, I'm not sure if I really race locally again on a regular basis. I guess it's kind of like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, when four hobbits thought the world of their hometown, The Shire, before they set out into the greater world and faced much larger conflicts there. When they came back after their mission was over, nothing was really ever the same. All the local conflicts that others seemed as significant was seen by these 4 hobbits as small.

So the question remains, "can you really ever go back home again?"

Again, I don't know. When I know there is a larger world out there with epic challenges to face? I tend to have serious doubts that I can settle back into the local race scenes.

Only time will tell.

One thing I will do is to still get reacquainted with my NJ side again, lest in time they will only remember me as a name on their president's list. I've had fun talking to my old friends today, and I don't want to lose any more of them to time.